King Polemon II was the last ruler of the Polemonid dynasty, which ruled Pontus for approximately a century. His full Roman name, Marcus Antonius Polemon, is an indication of his distant kinship to Marcus Antonius. He was also possibly called Julius Polemon, which may imply that Octavian Augustus of the Julio-Claudian dynasty had probably recognized his grandfather’s, Polemon I, power.1
His parents were the king of Thrace Kotys VIII and Antonia Tryphaina, while his grandparents on his mother’s side were the king of Pontus Polemon I and his wife Pythodoris. As for siblings, Rhoemitalces III ruled in Thrace and Kotys IX in Armenia Minor. After he broke up with his first wife, Berenice, daughter of the king of Judaea Agrippa I, he married Julia Mamaea, possibly of the royal house of Emesa (modern Homs, Syria). His second wife gave birth to two sons, Rhoemitalces and Polemon.2
Polemon was born circa 15 AD. As a young man, he must have lived with his brothers for some time in Rome, where they made friends with Emperor Caligula (37-41), for there are epigraphic sources reporting them as his “companions and associates”. According to Tacitus, after their father’s assassination in 18/19, Polemon and his brothers together with a cousin of theirs inherited the rule over the Kingdom of Thrace. However, because they were still underage, Rome appointed a guardian, who exercised power in the kingdom until they came of age.3
Strabo refers to the same period reporting that the elder brother became a tyrant. Given that in Tiberius’ years a tyrant-archpriest of Olbe is evidenced in Cilicia Trachea under the name “Marcus Antonius Polemon”, it has been supported that the archpriest is identified with the namesake King Polemon II. This assumption was not based only on the common name of the two rulers: both minted coins on behalf of the Koinon of Cennatis and Lalassis, which leads to the conclusion that they exercised power over the same district, Cilicia Trachea.4 However, the identification seems rather impossible, since Polemon must not have been the elder son of Kotys.
Furthermore, Polemon II was still a child in 18/19, while the coin issues of archpriest Polemon depict a middle-aged man. It should also be noted that the issues of archpriest Polemon are remarkably different from the coins minted in Cilicia Trachea by King Polemon after 41, when he was ceded part of the district. Another argument against the identification of the archpriest with King Polemon is the fact that Polemon II had adopted the Jewish customs, which is rather inconsistent with the capacity of the archpriest of Olbe. It is also strange that the ancient writer Josephus, who never failed to record similar information, makes no mention.5
In 38 Caligula appointed Polemon II king of Pontus. Perhaps it was then that the Bosporan Kingdom was ceded to him, although he was to exercise his power over the region for only three years. In 41 Emperor Claudius detached the Bosporan Kingdom from Polemon, giving him a part of Cilicia in exchange.6 Possibly that was the moment Polemon II’s rule was established in Cilicia Trachea. He must have succeeded the namesake tyrant-archpriest Marcus Antonius Polemon, who may have been his uncle.7
It is certain that his state included the regions of Cennatis and Lalassis, and possibly Olbe and Seleuceia ad Calycandus. Polemon II was not assigned the command of the undisciplined tribes of Cilicia Trachea by chance. His distant ancestor Marcus Antonius had recognized the right of the Teucrid dynasty –predecessors of Polemon II in the region– to exercise power over Olbe. This could have been the reason why Polemon preferred to use the name “Marcus Antonius Polemon” in his coin issues of Cilicia Trachea.8 Besides, this region had been at some point in the past part of his grandfather’s, Polemon I, kingdom, and the memory of his rule possibly helped Polemon II to subordinate its inhabitants.9
In 44 Polemon II participated in the conference held by the king of Judaea Agrippa I.10 In 54 he probably took part in the military movement against the Parthians, who were threatening Armenia.11 In 60 he seems to have supported Roman efforts to put Tigranes VI of Judaea on the throne of Armenia and was therefore rewarded with the allocation of a part of Armenia Minor, which remained under his rule until 66 at the latest.
On the coins he minted in Armenia he used the title “Great King”, following the example of the Parthians and several other dynasties of the East, although he did not do the same with the coin issues of Cilicia and Pontus, where the title would have insulted the Greek customs.12 Polemon’s rule over Pontus ended in 64, when he resigned from the royal throne, while his kingdom was incorporated into the Roman province of Pontus. From then on, Polemon withdrew to Cilicia Trachea, where he lived possibly until 68.13
3. Cultural Contribution
An honorary inscription of Cyzicus, dated to 38, reports Polemon’s participation in celebrations and games honouring Drusilla, sister of Emperor Caligula. In this way, Polemon expressed his loyalty to the emperor who had put him on the royal throne.14 According to a different source, Polemon and Antiochus IV of Commagene held athletic games in honour of Emperor Claudius in Cilicia in 47. The same source reports the indisputable favour Polemon showed to Claudius, thus indicating that the ruler of Pontus had offered significant services to the emperor. Polemon II was the last descendant of a dynasty that ascended to the royal throne as a result of the Roman favour and loyally served the Roman interests, safeguarding peace and stability on the eastern border of the empire.
1. Sullivan, R.D., “King Marcus Antonius Polemo”, NC 7.19 (1979), p. 13. Reservations about the use of the name “Julius” by Polemon II are expressed by Barrett, A.A., “Polemo II of Pontus and M. Antonius Polemo”, Historia 27 (1978), p. 445. Stein and Petersen consider that Antonius Polemon was son of Julius Polemon; see PIR IV³, p. 250, no. 472.
2. For the Polemonid dynasty, see Sullivan, R.D., “Dynasts in Pontus”, ANRW 7.2 (1980), pp. 925-930. For the intermarriages between the Polemonids and other dynasties of east Asia Minor, see Sullivan, R.D., “Papyri reflecting the Eastern Dynastic Network”, ANRW 2.8 (1977), p. 919.
3. Tac., Ann. 57. Sullivan supports that he was born circa 12 AD. This results from the evidence that Polemon was a companion and, therefore, coeval with Caligula (IGRR IV 145), in connection with his assumption that Polemon was the elder son of Kotys; see Sullivan, R.D., “King Marcus Antonius Polemo”, NC 7.19 (1979), p. 10. However, epigraphic evidence mentioning Polemon and his brothers reports him second in order; see SIG³, no. 798, n. 8. Given that Kotys married circa 12 AD, it is concluded that Polemon must have been born circa 15, which seems more possible; see also Barrett, A.A., “Polemo II of Pontus and M. Antonius Polemo”, Historia 27 (1978), p. 444; Hoffmann, W., “Polemon (3)”, RE 21 (1952), column 1285.
4. Strabo 12.3.29. The identification between the two persons was supported by Sullivan, R.D., “Dynasts in Pontus”, ANRW 7.2 (1980), pp. 925-930; see also Sullivan, R.D., “King Marcus Antonius Polemo”, NC 7.19 (1979), p. 8. However, Sullivan admits that this identification presents some problems with regard to the chronology of King Polemon II’s coinage.
5. The identification between the two rulers is rejected by Barrett, A.A., “Polemo II of Pontus and M. Antonius Polemo”, Historia 27 (1978), p. 437, Magie, D., Roman Rule in Asia Minor (Princeton 1950), pp. 548, 1407, Hill, G.F., “Olba, Cennatis, Lalassis”, NC 3.19 (1899), p. 200. Magie supports that Dio Cassius confuses Polemon of Pontus with Polemon who ruled Cilicia, and that the king of Pontus was never ceded any part of Cilicia Trachea. Τhis view is convincingly disproved by Barrett. There is an interesting interpretation provided by Hill, who supports that the tyrant and archpriest of Olbe was Polemon II’s uncle.
6. Dio Cass. 60.80.2. For the Bosporan Kingdom, see Sullivan, R.D., “Dynasts in Pontus”, ANRW 7.2 (1980), p. 928. Because he supports the identification between Polemon II and the archpriest Polemon, Sullivan considers it possible that Polemon lost for some time (perhaps during Caligula’s rule, i.e. 38-41) his possessions in Cilicia Trachea before he recovered them in 41 by order of Claudius.
7. Strabo (12.3.29) does not report the name of the uncle, but it seems very possible that he was called Marcus Antonius Polemon. To our knowledge, Polemon I had two sons and a daughter. The one son was called Zeno, the other son’s name remains unknown and the daughter was Antonia Tryphaina, Polemon II’s mother. Τhe name “Antonius” ran in the family and, therefore, it was possibly given to the elder son of Polemon I. As underlined by Barrett, although this is an absolutely hypothetical theory, it is certain that the archpriests of priestly states were usually descended from the same family. Since both Polemon I and his grandson, Polemon II, ruled Cilicia Trachea, it is only natural that the archpriest of Olbe belonged to the same family as long as he had the same name as Polemon II. For more details of this theory, see Hill, G.F., “Olba, Cennatis, Lalassis”, NC 3.19 (1899), p. 200.
8. See Sullivan, R.D., “King Marcus Antonius Polemo”, NC 7.19 (1979), pp. 8-14, including the coin issues of the archpriest Polemon and King Polemon II in Cilicia Trachea.
9. Sullivan, R.D., “Dynasts in Pontus”, ANRW 7.2 (1980), p. 926; Sullivan, R.D., “King Marcus Antonius Polemo”, NC 7.19 (1979), p. 8; Sullivan, R.D., “Eastern Dynastic Priesthoods”, in Sahin, S. (ed.) Studien zur Religion und Kultur Kleinasiens, Festschrift für Friedrich Karl Dörner zum 65. Geburtstag am 28. Februar 1976 (Leiden 1978), p. 926.
12. Tac., Ann. 14.26.2; Seyrig, H., “Polémon II et Julia Mamaea”, RN II (1969), p. 45.
13. Suet., Nero 18; see also Sullivan, R.D., “Dynasts in Pontus”, ANRW 7.2 (1980), p. 930.